It's hard to avoid politics in Israel – even if you're the world's hottest pop star. And the star du jour, Justin Bieber, seems to have gotten himself into a political imbroglio with no less than the Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu.
Bieber, the darling of pre-teen girls around the world, is in Israel for a pre-Passover concert to be held Thursday night at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv. Contradictory media reports have surfaced about the pace of ticket sales, with some reports saying that the concert venue will be jammed, and others saying that ticket sales have been sluggish – although many parents consider that story to be a red herring, designed to keep the concert at the top of the headlines in order to promote last-minute ticket sales.
Bieber has been touring Israel since Monday (he arrived late Sunday), and he is supposed to be attending a Passover seder here next week. Sources close to the star have said that Bieber was looking forward to the trip; he was raised in a religious Catholic household in Canada, is well-versed in stories and events from the Bible, and is said to have been excited at the prospect of seeing the sites he has come to know so well.
In fact, Bieber even has a Jewish connection: He was discovered (on YouTube) and promoted to stardom by his agent, Scott "Scooter" Braun, a 28-year-old born to a Conservative Jewish family in Connecticut with many relatives in Israel. Braun has taught Bieber the “Shema Yisrael” prayer – the central confession of faith said by Jews twice daily – and Braun has said in numerous interviews that Bieber says the Shema (along with a Christian prayer) before each concert.
However, according to Bieber's associates – and his Twitter account – the trip isn't everything the star hoped it would be. Israel's “paparazzi,” the photographers and TV correspondents that get paid for photos and video of celebrities, have apparently been giving Bieber a very hard time, sticking a camera in his face at any and every opportunity. Bieber has been expressing his frustration via his Twitter account, to his millions of followers. “They should be ashamed of themselves,” Bieber tweeted. “Take pictures of me eating but not in a place of prayer, ridiculous. People wait their whole lives for opportunities like this, why would they want to take that experience away from someone.” On Tuesday night, he tweeted that he would remain in his hotel with his family for the rest of the trip instead of touring, as planned.
And then there was the meeting with the Prime Minister. According to Israeli media reports, Bieber had been set to meet with Netanyahu (whose nickname is “Bibi”) Wednesday morning – but the meeting was canceled, according to reports, by Netanyahu, when Bieber's people refused to allow him to bring kids from Sderot to the meeting. Bieber's handlers – including Gadi Yaron, the producer of Bieber's Israel concert – denied that any meeting had been set, saying in radio interviews that the first he had heard of any meeting was in the media. Several newspapers said that the fact of the meeting had been invented by Netanyahu advisors “in order to allow the Prime Minister a photo-op with the world's biggest star,” as one newspaper not considered friendly to Netanyahu put it.
Netanyahu's office, meanwhile, released a statement saying that the two had indeed been set to meet, but that the Prime Minister canceled the meeting after it became clear that youth from towns in the Gaza border area were not invited. “The Prime Minister did not see this request as 'political,'” the statement said, but apparently Bieber's handlers did – and since Netanyahu is not interested in meeting with celebrities for his own sake, he canceled the meeting. Bieber's people denied that they had refused to meet with youth from the troubled areas, and in fact said they had distributed hundreds of free tickets to kids from Sderot and the surrounding area.
Bieber himself hasn't commented – but he did send out a tweet that expressed his frustration with the situation, including his introduction to Israeli politics: "i want to see this country and all the places I've dreamed of and whether its the paps (paparazzi) or being pulled into politics it's been frustrating."